Jiawei YUAN | The Conceptual Triad in ZHANG Yunyao’s Felt Drawing: Skin, Gesture and Body
On the occasion of the advent of ZHANG Yunyao’s solo exhibition “Skin Gesture Body,” Don Gallery looks back to the artist’s felt drawing in a new retrospective. The three words that constitute the title of the exhibition—skin, gesture, and body—are the interrelated textual elements devised as a conceptual triad, a dialectic between words and images, to decode the specificity of the signifying process in his long term experiment on felt.
Skin is the mimetic object posited by the artist to stage the altered perceptual status of the material. By using the idea of skin as an entry point, the artist formulates a displaced subject on felt that encompasses the flow of lateral forces in image-making.
In the early phase of felt drawing, the artist occasionally qualifies the semiotic thrust of his narrative structure. He deliberately obscures the foundational distinction between the haptic and the optical dimensions of an image, taking his art-historical attempts to transform everything optical into varying intensities of tactility, which provides a contrast with the aesthetic transition from the haptic to the optical in the formalist terms.
Different textures of decorative textiles for domestic use, ranging from curtains and cushions to sofa covers and wall papers, fully occupy the frame, while the institution of framing is coined by the symbiotic relationship between the motif of image as a viewed object and the surface of image as a found object. Although the quality of such an image conveyed as the perception of a piece of cloth is rooted in the eyes of the viewer, it does not really appeal to the eyes but to the fingertips of the viewer, against the skin of felt.
It is hard to tell whether the textiles that he draws are made of felt in the first place or they just seem to be felt because the skin just prevents the existence of any other texture. By tracing out an sense of physical grasping, or to say, the idea of taking hold of things, the artist begins with an emphasis on the imagined touch which challenges the truth of images with the notion of skin interfacing with both objects and subjects. The inter-corporeal narrative at this point is precisely the bodily interactions permeating the frame.
Defined as a manner of cultivation, gesture adheres to the notion of imitation that intervenes the productive body. Such a literati tradition appears to be an invisible hand moderating different historical tasks and rituals which pierce the skin, and meanwhile mark, train, torture, force the body.
To make clear his deconstructive attitude that converges the strong and precise actions into the felt, the artist incarnates the experience of being embodied by foregrounding the social nature of the body and the bodily nature of social relationships in the modern context.
Garments including coats, shirts and dresses are depicted as being scored on a wearer, while the responsible individual is absent and the garment is suspended in the void. As the selected garments are organically linked with particular classes and genders in a given hierarchy, it is a conciliatory gesture to be performed by the viewer, unwittingly connecting him/herself with the living environment and embracing its ideological framework. The unfolding condition of self-reflexivity features something tangible in the experience.
It so happens that the artist is especially intrigued by the image of chandelier. It seems to be swinging in the space it temporarily occupies, yet expands upon the tranquil ambience introducing an exaggerated sense of the bodily presence of human beings, which is exactly what the artist wants the viewer to engage. The grandiose chandelier symbolizes the end of a certain era and the futility of desire in the face of a great social cause.
Whereas body is the location occupied by an individual in physical space, it provides a place for the interplay between self-identifications and social relationships; more importantly, body situates itself as a site for the construction of sentimental noumenon. By fabricating highly stylized poses, the artist is showing an advanced understanding of anatomy, among which the body is disciplined by pleasure and thus becomes politicized. The sculptural appearance of felt is concreted by the powerful evocation of the mortal flesh, which ends the ignorance and suppression on body.
In Study in Figures (2017), the artist combines The Rape of the Sabine Women (1574-1582) and Hercules and the Centaur Nessus (1599) by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608) in late Renaissance. The former depicted three intertwined figures - one man abducting the women and the beaten husband looking on in horror. The latter characterized Hercules under the taut skin beating the veined legs of the centaur Nessus, poised in battle, who attempted to force himself upon Deianeira, the wife of Heracles. The two complex groups of figures move upwards together in elongated proportions in the felt drawing, showing a range of emotions. The pain got in fights and combats is a pathway for an individual to encounter his/her complete self coined with clear boundaries.